If you’re anything like me, you’ve been conditioned by years of stories of guys outproducing their draft status to look fondly at the term “tweener.” Instead of a negative, prospects come out between two positions, slide in the draft, and turn out to be stars regardless. The Madden video game has probably pushed this view even farther because every season you can turn a couple 70 overall linebackers into 10+ sack studs.
Coming out of Florida State in 2017, DeMarcus Walker was undersized for the 4i/5 technique in Vance Joseph’s 3-4 defense and lacked the athleticism to play in space as an Edge backer. Regardless, John Elway and the Broncos took him with the 51st pick of the draft.
DeMarcus Walker profile
Experience: 3rd season
Walker has had his believers for a long time in part because he was so productive for the Seminoles. Over the course of his final two collegiate seasons he notched 25 sacks, 33.5 tackles for a loss, and 6 forced fumbles.
For some, it’s seemed inexplicable that Walker’s pro production would amount to a grand total of 2 sacks and 11 tackles through his first two years in the NFL. If he could just get a chance to prove himself, he’ll show he’s the sack master he was his last year in Tallahassee. Why wouldn’t a coach want that?
Following this belief, many point to how he was miscast as an Edge player his rookie season and that the coaching staff had it out for him limiting his 2018 snaps to 3 games. I’ve heard he’s the defensive Paxton Lynch: a bust due to organizational failure.
Those that subscribe to this theory see how Walker was a healthy scratch in every game after the Texans loss, even as the Broncos season went down the drain.
So what gives?
- First step.
- Hand usage.
- Solid swim move.
- Solid bull rush.
Any conversation about DeMarcus Walker as a pro has to bring with it the caveat that he’s played a grand total of 121 defensive snaps over two seasons. 4/5 of those came as a linebacker his rookie season while the final 21 came in three 2018 games.
Since he is trying to make the current squad as a defensive lineman I looked to his snaps against the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals to get an idea of what he offers to the Fangio D.
One thing that could help Walker make the Broncos is that he offers a deceptively quick burst off the snap. In limited snaps it looks like it’d help him to play into zone schemes as his upfield burst gives him a chance to get into an opponent.
When it comes to that rush plan, Walker offers some promise. He came out of FSU with a solid swim move and it looks effective against professional competition. In the Fangio scheme he should have more opportunities to use it this preseason.
It was also encouraging that Walker did not hesitate to drop the bull rush if a blocker left him the opportunity. Additionally, his quick snap reaction makes him a solid player on stunts as the leader.
- Short Arms.
- Workout numbers.
While Walker’s initial step gives him a chance off the ball, he isn’t the kind of twitched up athlete you tend to see thriving at the 2i/3 technique. He’s offers a below average combination of explosiveness and lateral agility. It also appears his play strength is just adequate.
This last issue is compounded by Walker’s 33” arms. They’re short for a 3-4 defensive end and just average for a defensive tackle. This does hint that he could look a better with more opportunities to truly play as an interior defensive lineman in Fangio’s nickel packages, but also illuminates one reason he has a hard time standing out along the defensive line: blockers can get their hands on him early and lock him out.
Lastly, Walker’s 280 lb frame really hurts him against double teams and down blocks. If he doesn’t come out low he gets blown off the ball. He’ll need to improve in this regard if he’s going to make it onto the final roster.
Walker’s sack totals are impressive, but he’s not the type of “early win” sack artist that generally post those types of numbers. He’s a base end with power to hold up at the point, but better suited to reduce inside as interior rusher on passing downs. Walker lacks the desired size and physical traits teams look for off the edge; a move to three-technique isn’t out of the question.
At the moment, Walker is a tweener. Too small to play full time inside and unathletic enough to play out on the edge. Over time he could bulk up into a full-time 3-tech, but playing the run may never be his strong suit. That said there is upside as an interior pass rusher and could step in and produce their right away.
DeMarcus Walker’s roster status with the Broncos
Over the course of Fangio’s tenure with the Bears, he always carried 6 or more defensive lineman. At present I’d consider Shelby Harris, Zach Kerr, Derek Wolfe, Dre’Mont Jones, and Adam Gotsis locks. That means Walker is fighting with four other players for what looks like one spot.
The numbers are definitely stacked against him. It comes down to what Fangio wants out of that last (or maybe two last) spots. However, if the Broncos are intrigued by Walker’s potential as an interior rusher in their nickel personnel package, he has a chance. It certainly sounds like he made an impression on the new coaching staff in camp yesterday.
We’ll see if he can keep it up.